3 Takeaways from the Inspirational Suneel Gupta

This year’s NBOA Annual Meeting opening keynote hit all the high notes — leadership, personal wellness and innovation.

Feb 28, 2023  |  By Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

Every year at the NBOA Annual Meeting, I anticipate the moment that the doors to the opening keynote swing open promptly at 8 AM. Within minutes the ballroom is filled with business officers, human resources professionals, controllers, business partners, speakers and independent school association leaders. This year nearly 1,200 such individuals gathered. I’m fortunate to have a bird’s eye view of the scene as I deliver the opening remarks, and it always gives me a rush. This year was even more special because — in case you haven’t heard — we are celebrating 25 years of NBOA advancing business excellence in independent schools!

When you’re planning a meeting at the magnitude of the NBOA Annual Meeting, with nationally renowned speakers, an exhibit hall at capacity, and all variety of sessions (50 concurrents, 9 deep dives and 36 goldmines to be precise), your hope is that the speakers are riveting, the rooms are packed with learning, and the hallways bustle with networking. This year all thankfully went as planned.

But beyond planning, there is magic, and the magic happens when you’re in the audience with the right speaker at the right time. For me this year — and for attendees, judging by his book sales and the line for his meet-and-greet following his talk — that speaker was Suneel Gupta. I had the opportunity to interview Suneel for Net Assets magazine several months ago, but still, I was surprised how in the room and on stage, his insight, humor, humility and family story were exactly what the doctor ordered. (And he would know, as his brother is Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent at CNN).

5 Minutes for Me

Suneel opened with his concept of 55/5. This is a simple yet powerful rule that proposes we schedule meetings or tasks for 55 minutes instead of 60. The remaining 5 minutes is for us: to move around, sit and clear your head, or step outside, which he says is especially effective. In the age of back-to-back meetings — especially ZOOM meetings — and never-ending deadlines, you could almost hear the collective “YES!” when he shared this rule. He even demonstrated with a five-minute timer on stage and encouraged all of us to get one. Suneel gave me his timer, which I will treasure and make good use of. That wasn’t his only gift to me that day.

Keynote speaker Suneel Gupta, left, and NBOA President & CEO Jeff Shields, right

4 People You Need

On the leadership front, I know many in attendance latched onto Suneel’s breakdown of the four types of people that everyone needs in their inner circle. These include the collaborator, the person that helps you build on your ideas and bring them to fruition; the coach, who helps you figure out not only if your idea is good, but if it’s something that you would be passionate about delivering; and the cheerleader, who has our back no matter what. For Suneel, and many of us, this is often fulfilled by our mothers. Finally, we need a “Cheddar,” which is a character in Eminem’s movie “8 mile.” Cheddar is the person that pokes holes in your ideas to make sure that you have thought through everything that may set you back. You know a meeting speaker has infiltrated the psyche of the meeting when you hear his concepts shared throughout the day, and even into the next. I can’t tell you how many times I heard someone talking about their collaborator, cheerleader and coach, but especially their Cheddar.

No Time Like Now

On the personal side, it was his final point that really stuck with me, and I’m still thinking about it. He encouraged us to “play the game of now,” meaning that we all could benefit as leaders if we stopped waiting for the perfect time to take action or to implement our great idea. Believe in your idea. Extraordinary leaders don’t wait for the perfect time. And as a leader, you can also support someone else’s idea by giving them the confidence, nudge and fuel they need to go for it. The concept is to act now, take the risk, and build bravery later. I plan to take the bet and play the game of now. I hope you decide to as well.

As a reminder, if you attended the 2023 NBOA Annual Meeting, you will soon have access to recordings and slides of all meeting sessions, including Suneel’s. The on-demand sessions will be available March 6-June 30. If you weren’t able to join us, I hope I whet your appetite. You can still register for the on-demand meeting; the member rate is $495. The goal of providing the on-demand experience is to extend the learning of the Annual Meeting to those who cannot make it in person and to provide opportunities to share your experience with colleagues. In short, we want to be as inclusive as possible with the NBOA Annual Meeting experience. I can’t wait until next year. See you in Atlanta, February 25-28, 2024! 

Jeff Shields signature


Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE

President and CEO


Washington, DC

Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE, has served as president and CEO of the NBOA since March 2010. NBOA is the premier national association serving the needs of business officers and business operations staff at independent schools. Shields, an active member of the American Society of Association Executives, has been recognized as an ASAE Fellow (FASAE) and earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) professional designation. His current board service includes serving as a director for AMHIC, a healthcare consortium for educational associations in Washington, DC, as well as a trustee for the Enrollment Management Association. Previous board service includes serving as a director for the American Society of Association Executives, as a director for One Schoolhouse, an innovative online school offering supplemental education to independent schools, and as a trustee for Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC. Shields holds a BA from Shippensburg University and an MA from The Ohio State University.

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